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Travel Adventure - Backpacking Latin America's Gringo Trail Backpacking Latin America starting in Cuba, then travelling from East to the west coast of Mexico before making our through Central and finishing in South America.

Mojitos and cigars in Havana

CUBA | Friday, 19 June 2015 | Views [576]

We passed through grey clouds as we descended in to Havana and it was raining as we arrived. This wasn't a surprise as it is now their wet season which is very humid and rains/storms in the afternoon. We had not booked accommodation for Havana but were told to look for casa particulars (a blue triangle/rectangle on their front door) and you are able to stay with families in these homes. We tried to email a few when we were in Mexico City through homestay.com but I think we left it a bit late because we couldn't get Matts email to work at the airport to check their replies and didn't realise how much of a time warp Havana is until we got here and they pretty much have no Internet. Or apparently dial up if you happen to come across it which costs $7 per half hour! Unheard of compared to the wifi Internet we are used to in Oz and which is easily accessible in most other countries.

Anyway we had to wing it when we arrived and a guy from the tourist office approached us straight off the plane (we were obviously tourists carrying gigantic backpacks on our backs). We changed our money there as you cannot convert Cuban currency in any other country (i learnt this when i tried to get some in Australia and the girl at the teller was very hush hush) The tourist guy called some guy on the phone to check we could stay at his house and then told us to follow another guy upstairs who showed us the taxi to get in to, we didn't get very far until the police stopped us and we had to get in to the taxi from downstairs. Not really sure what was happening here but it seemed dodgy so we decided to get in to another 'official' taxi to take us to old havana to find a casa particular and through broken english the taxi driver said he knew a friend where we could stay. We had no other option so we went to his friends house. 
Getting out of the taxi was a bit of a surreal experience as the buildings surrounding were so old and all had so much character it's hard to explain. Cuba is a communist country and apparently there is not much money in the economy so buildings have not been modernised or repaired. There are all these beautiful, colourful run down buildings from the late 1800s still standing and all the old 1950s American cars driving around (plenty of them broken down and getting fixed on the side of the road) which makes Havana so interesting to look at. 
Unfortunately not knowing where we were the taxi had dropped us to central Havana which is kind of the ghetto end of town! The Cuban man was welcoming and gave us keys to our own casa to stay the night but we had heard of places where we stay with the family and they cook breakfast for you etc. 
That night I was tired after a day of flying and wanted to go straight to bed but Matt wanted to look around. It was dark and I was starving so was glad to find a restaurant which someone who spoke English (sales person) on the street led us to. It's weird it seems like it should be dodgy with lots of people hanging around the streets and the run down buildings but everyone is actually friendly and it is a safe place. The restaurant ended up being in a very cool building (they all are) and had a cigar room upstairs. Apparently 'the best cigars in Cuba' with photos all over the walls of the owner with famous people smoking cigars. The waiter unlocked the cigar cabinet upstairs for Matt to choose a cigar, he also ordered a Mojito and we smoked and drank on the balcony after dinner... when in Cuba! 
The next day we wanted to find a casa particular to stay in Old Havana (which is actually the nicer part of Havana) we walked along the Malecon, which runs along the Caribbean waters edge. As soon as we got to Old Havana we could tell this was where we wanted to be. We looked out for the blue triangle/arrow sign and saw one which had a blue and white door. We rang the door bell and someone shouted 'Hola' from the balcony, the lady threw down a small purse to Matt who caught it and had a key in it to open the front door. We went upstairs and the lady opened the door, welcomed us in and through pointing, actions and a couple of English words (mainly Spanish) showed us around her home. This room to rent was cheaper than the other one we stayed and she also cooked for us breakfast too. It seemed much nicer as soon as we arrived. We said 'si' she gave us the keys and we walked a sweaty walk back along the Malecon to get our bags (I felt sorry for the other man as we gave back his keys) and returned to the new casa particular. The lady's husband was home now and we all tried to converse in broken English and Spanish in regards to what time we wanted breakfast in the morning to working out how far Australia is to Cuba and how long it took to fly here (muchas!) It definitely made me want to get better at speaking Spanish as we only barely were able to comprehend what was being said.
That evening we walked down the street to get food. We heard salsa music playing and followed it to an impressive lobby at the bottom of what seemed to be an expensive hotel called Hotel Sevilla. We sat and listened to the Cuban music and sipped on cocktails. Here we also realised we could get Wifi in exchange for 8CUC which is approx $11 AUD for 1hr.. yikes! That's how scarce Internet is I guess. We quickly logged on to let everyone know we were still alive! Haha
We then ate dinner at a nice restaurant nearby but paying half as much as you would in Oz for how good it was, which also had a piano man and singer performing. 
We then went for a short romantic walk along the Malecon on the balmy night. People were relaxed, just hanging about in the streets and walking along with guitars, playing music and dancing. One Cuban man with a hat and cigar sat down next to us and serenaded us with his guitar. He played three songs (including Hotel California for us to sing along to), let Matt have a go at playing with his guitar, took photos with us and had a chat... all for 1CUC of course. It was a nice evening and we had started to warm to Cuba's charm. 
I fell asleep to the sound of drums and woke to the sound of music and people dancing/talking outside. We spent the next two days walking around the streets becoming more intrigued by the buildings and the people who lived there. We would find more and more parts of Havana we hadn't been to yet and because we couldn't speak the language and had no Internet we would just walk and see what we could find. From the outside these buildings have so much character and beauty with 1800s exterior designs and painted colourfully. Some parts of the buildings have fallen down while others parts have windows smashed  with wood patching it back together and look dirty and old. In Sydney we would think these places were abandoned with maybe homeless people living here but these are people's homes of Havana. I researched a little bit before I came about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and the Revolution but having been here I really want to find out more and understand why the Cubans are stuck in this time warp and live so differently, almost innocently to the world around them. Apparently there's not much crime here and you do spot a police man every couple of metres you walk. The Cubans don't seem to have a care in the world, are quite calm, happy, want to talk to you and are all hanging about in the streets or looking at what's happening on the streets below from their balcony's above. They all seem uniquely talented and don't know it, with art all along the streets and people playing instruments, dancing and singing. Apparently their government puts a lot of money in to the performing arts and makes it accessible to everyone, the same with their education. Havana also seems quite depressing as this is a Communist country and people go to the shops (not for tourists) to pick up their rations of food for their families and live among the collapsed roads and beg for money/try to sell you things on the street. After 4 days I actually still can't put my finger on this strangely intriguing place.
We went out to watch some more Cuban music play in the restaurant for dinner and also Floridita bar, which looked like it was the go to place in the 1950s. That afternoon we also were in the middle of the afternoon thunderstorm which the lightning literally cracked on the building beside us. That was pretty scary! 
We were trying to work out how and when we would go to Veredero (even though we've heard bad things as its extremely touristy but we have plenty of days in Cuba and its the closest and cheapest beach to get to), Vinales and Trinidad. Again proving difficult with no Internet and not being able to speak the language. We mentioned it to Katy and through trying to understand her Spanish and writing things down with arrows etc she pretty much organised the rest of our stay in Cuba as she opened her address book which had a web of contacts. She dialled the numbers to her friends who own casas in each of the places we were visiting to ask if we could stay and so they could expect us when we arrived. The rest of our holiday around Cuba was planned and booked via our new travel agent! 

Tags: buildings, cars, castro, che, cigars, cuba, havana, malecon, mojitos, music



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